Watertown Mayor T. Urling Walker understood how vital trees are to the life of a community.
In 1977, he joined other members of the Watertown Noon Rotary Club to plant trees around the city. He also helped organize Tree Watertown, an advisory group that meets monthly.
The ice storm that struck the region in 1991 destroyed numerous trees. A microburst hit in 1995, exacting more damage.
Walker helped recruit city residents to begin meeting in 1995 to restore trees that were lost. Charlie Nevin, a former forester with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, coined the name “Tree Watertown” in 1996, and the group remains active.
Residents who share Walker’s passion for trees will honor his memory Friday during the city’s annual Arbor Day celebration. Members of Walker’s family along with friends as well as city officials and representatives of the local tree community will gather at noon at First Presbyterian Church in Watertown to plant a tree and commemorate Walker’s contribution to this cause.
Walker died Jan. 3 at the age of 97. This ceremony will be another reminder of the profound ways the former mayor influenced Watertown for the better.
“A bur oak tree will be planted, and a plaque will be placed at the site to recognize Mayor Walker’s efforts. Planting it in front of … First Presbyterian Church is a logical spot to pay tribute to him, said Michael J. DeMarco, who has served as the city’s urban forestry coordinator since 2016. The former mayor was a member of the church for many years, he said,” according to a story published April 21 by the Watertown Daily Times. “[Walker] was instrumental in forming the city’s efforts of reviving Watertown’s urban forestry after the 1991 ice storm and 1995 microburst storm destroyed hundreds and hundreds of trees, recalled Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community director. Just as the tree inventory was recovering, the ice storm hit the region, causing additional damage. In 1995, Mayor Walker … convened a group of community leaders who had the same kind of interests in making sure that the city’s tree canopy was alive and well, Mr. Lumbis recalled.
“It was when Mayor Walker served as city manager that he got the community devoted to improving the city’s population, Mr. Lumbis said. Under the leadshership of Mayor Walker, city’s tree efforts have grown and flourished, Mr. DeMarco said, adding that the former mayor inspired others,” the article reported. “Mayor Walker’s efforts also helped after a second ice storm hit in 1998, causing additional damage, Mr. Lumbis said. While other members came and went, Jason White, a longtime Tree Watertown member, said the former mayor was a stalwart on the city’s tree committee. Mayor Walker also was recognized for interest in trees at the city’s historic Thompson Park, where a plaque was placed on a stone with his name in the park commemorating his devotion, he said.”
Walker appreciated the value of trees to our eco-system just as did another north country resident who went on to become a legendary public servant. Julius Sterling Morton, born and raised in Adams, founded the first U.S. celebration of Arbor Day in 1872 while serving as secretary of the Nebraska Territory.
Morton persuaded the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture that year to designate the last Friday in April as Arbor Day. Nebraskans planted more than 1 million trees during the inaugural event.
It is fitting for local Arbor Day organizers to honor Walker’s work in this way. We encourage readers to participate in Arbor Day activities by planting and caring for trees, thus ensuring a healthier future for all of us.
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